After this year’s swathe of summer sales on various game stores, I have found myself, as always, to have overspent somewhat! In an effort to counteract my frivolity I went on a hunt for free games and stumbled across an eclectic little collection of titles, spanning a number of genres.
A Raven Monologue
Developer: Mojiken Studios
Released: January 2018
A Raven Monologue is a short, experimental game with some striking, hand-drawn artwork. The aim of the project was to attempt to tell stories or communicate an experience using a constrained work of interactive art. The protagonist is a mute raven and the constraint applied to this experience is silence, not in a literal sense but in the lack of dialogue, text or any diegetic sound.
The artwork is undoubtedly the game’s best feature. The sketchy hand-drawn style is unique and refreshing and really fits the theme and characters. The music, composed by Christabel Annara, was cute and a little melancholy but it did get a little repetitive even in the short playtime. This was possibly emphasised by quite an obvious pause when the song loops.
It is a very short experience, taking no more than 10 minutes to complete and is very much a visual novel, having minimal gameplay mechanics consisting solely of moving left or right between screens. I was a little unsure of the narrative and story at first but as the story progressed it revealed itself to be a somewhat poignant commentary on selfishness and loneliness and potentially a meaningful little experience.
From Head to Toe
Developer: Party for Introverts
Released: July 2019
Price: Yep, you guessed it! It’s Free
Head to Toe is a romantic interactive fiction piece by Patry for Introverts, the developers of Thing in Itself (review here). I thoroughly enjoyed their first game and had high hopes for their most recent release, despite the theme not being to my usual tastes. It is also a very short game and should take no longer than 15 minutes to complete.
The artwork has a simple cartoon style, which was pleasant enough but unremarkable; likewise, the music was mostly inoffensive background noise.
There are some mechanics in the game but the majority of interactivity feels shoehorned in, such as having to alternate clicking the left and right mouse buttons to move, which added nothing to the experience.
The game is essentially about rekindling old connections after growing up, however, the dialogue felt immature for the characters and the romantic elements were really twee and just cheesy in places. If you like this type of game you may enjoy From Head to Toe but personally, I found it very underwhelming and much preferred their early work.
When the Darkness Comes
Released: March 2019
Price: Also free
Saving the best for last, When the Darkness Comes was undoubtedly the highlight of my search! It provided hours of unique gameplay that I enjoyed on a multitude of levels. It is an obscure, psychological horror with strong themes of anxiety and depression.
The artwork is minimalistic and relatively unstyled, with fairly basic assets and scenes. However, this does not detract from the experience and is even used to add extra layers of meaning to the narrative. The colours are used effectively, consisting largely of black and white but contrasting the darker environments with bright reds, and utilising softer palettes in other areas to create a much different feel.
The game starts confusingly (and stays that way), with a narration from the developer, directed at the player personally. There are meta tidbits aplenty and a range of gameplay styles present within When the Darkness Comes. Genres include puzzles, platformers, horror elements, tests of patience and much more. These add more than mere mechanics and are used to great effect to evoke emotion in the player or progress the narrative.
The game could use some refining and optimisation, in particular, to improve the jarringly sudden loading screens and unjustifiably sporadic framerate. The only other criticism I have is the trigger warning at the start of the game. While it absolutely needs to be there, as the game does cover some very dark subject matter, the wording was patronising, essentially advising that anyone with mental health problems should avoid the game without question. Not only does this discount people’s ability to manage things like anxiety and depression but also discounts their decision-making abilities and detracts from the understanding demonstrated in the game overall.
I can’t say too much without spoiling the experience but the best comparison would be to say it is a cross between The Stanley Parable and Pony Island! It a dark, poignant game with a unique delivery, multiple endings and replayability. It took me around 4-5 hours to complete the game including all the Steam achievements and would happily have paid to do so. However, it is completely free and I’d highly recommend trying it.
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